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Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

War on Terror Enters the Stoned Age

Whether Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay could have succeeded in spawning a franchise on its own is questionable, but as a politically charged follow-up to the winning 2004 comedy that introduced the pair as twenty-something stoners in search of the perfect late-night snack, it hits more often than it misses.

Yes, it coasts on some of the residual charm of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, in which the genial duo embarked on a near-Odyssean quest for bite-sized burgers, unprepared for the backwoods perils awaiting them -- feral beasts, racist cops and Neil Patrick Harris (aka NPH). But once again, Harold (John Cho) and the proudly underachieving Kumar (Kal Penn) tempt fate in pursuit of herbal enlightenment, enduring incarceration, deportation and, perhaps worst of all, a trip through red-state hell that would make Dante blush.

After an ill-fated flight to Amsterdam earns them one-way tickets to Guantanamo, Harold and Kumar hitch a boat ride back to the mainland to prove their innocence -- they’re not terrorists, after all, just recreational potheads in possession of one suspicious-looking bong. After they wash up in Miami, their oddball odyssey resumes, at one point landing them in the lap of the Ku Klux Klan (led by White Castle alum Christopher Meloni, who makes the most of his cameo) and later at the Crawford, Texas, ranch of President George W. Bush.

Of course, no Harold & Kumar adventure would be complete without an appearance by NPH, and Guantanamo doesn’t disappoint. Once again playing himself as a cocky, drug-addled lothario consumed by his quest for the next high, the erstwhile Doogie Howser is no longer the revelation he was in White Castle -- his persona is by now established -- but the sheer audacity of his narcissism, fueled by his feverish consumption of hallucinogens, provides some of the film’s funniest moments.

As in the original, Harold, a Korean-American, and Kumar, an Indian-American, are routinely victimized by authorities for whom racial profiling and reflexive stereotyping seem like unwritten matters of policy. Worst of the lot is Ron Fox (Rob Corddry, of "The Daily Show"), a Homeland Security agent whose methods are as cartoonishly unorthodox as they are unhygienic and crass. (During one particularly awkward interrogation, he uses the Bill of Rights as toilet paper. Literally.) Fox is a buffoon, an equal-opportunity offender who belittles all comers in his wild-eyed bid to protect America’s (white) children. An unsubtle stereotype in his own right, he remains a wickedly amusing repudiation of post-9/11 hysteria.

Curiously, filmmakers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are far more sympathetic to President Bush (James Adomian), depicted as an overgrown child living in the shadow of an impossible-to-please father. That he idles away his time on the ranch smoking government-grade pot laced with cocaine might raise eyebrows in more conservative circles, but in the skewed world of Harold and Kumar, it seems like nothing less than an act of patriotism.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars